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NewTracks New Artists: Kishan The Jinn

NewTracks New Artists: Kishan The Jinn

‘What’s the price of a little boy’s life’ asks Kishan the Jinn early on in his single Kaala Patthar, giving listeners a strong indication that the artistic purpose for this intelligent and highly focused musician runs well beyond that of simple entertainment. A disciplined multi-instrumentalist and singer, Te Whanganui-A-Tara-based Kishan has just released an album titled ‘Suno’ which he says solidifies his musical identity as a South Asian producer, describing this track as a perfect blend of his own culture and contemporary RnB. NZ On Air Music included Kaala Patthar on their NewTracks compilation this September.

What’s your full name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My full name is Kishan Deepak Thanawala, but you can call me Kishan The Jinn, or just Kishan. I was born in Pōneke and raised in Porirua. I specialise in music production and I play a range of instruments including the keyboard, synth, guitar, percussion and vocals. My music draws a lot of inspiration from my South Asian heritage.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I attended Aotea College between 2010 and 2014. Music was a huge part of my studies. The only formal training I got was in vocals (I participated in Barbershop singing and even had my own quartet!), but spent a lot of my spare time picking up various other instruments. I also discovered Garageband in my high school years. Since then the learning hasn’t stopped. I’m always looking out for new instruments to add to my repertoire.

Any other projects might we know you from?

‘Suno’, my latest release is my breakthrough project. Both as an artist and as a producer. Including Kaala Patthar, it’s a 7-song album that solidifies my musical identity in a way I haven’t done before.

What’s the background story to how Kishan The Jinn came to be?

My roots in music production go back to when I was 10 years old and first discovered my love for playing the keyboard. Music has been a passion of mine ever since and I was determined to discover myself through the art. It wasn’t until my high school years I started developing a real love for producing, but even then it took me years to practice the craft and understand what it was I wanted to get out of my work at the end of the day.

I realised the importance of expressing my cultural identity through music. I was deeply inspired by the likes of A.R Rahman, Shan Vincent de Paul, Common and Burna Boy; all of them brought their cultural identity to the forefront of contemporary music where the message took precedence over the genre. Calling myself a South Asian producer has since become less about putting myself in a box, and more about owning my roots in a way I’ve never experienced or seen.

How has your music evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

Music production and songwriting has always been a spiritual experience for me. The art of making music has become a way for me to touch base with myself and whatever I’m feeling in the moment. For me music evolves like everything in my life. I often look back to my ideas in the past and feel both proud and humbled by the journey. From starting with nothing but a keyboard and a Skype camera to having my own mobile studio, and being able to make music as seamless as writing my thoughts down in a diary, it’s been a solid journey so far.

How and when did you come up with the name for the new project?

There wasn’t so much a ‘how’ and ‘when’ as there was a ‘why’. For me, it’s not so much about having a brand as it is about accurately representing both my culture and who I am as a person. I decided to name myself Kishan the Jinn long before my album was ready for release. Of course, the timing was key to the release of the album and I was grateful it resonated well with those following my work, my friends and my family. The word Jinn is of Middle Eastern origin and means ‘Spirit’. Commonly referred to in the Quran as a spirit that lives among people, often outspoken and shrouded in mystery, Jinn has become a reflection of the good and bad I’ve experienced throughout my life. Kishan is my birth name.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

Always was and will always be the very first time I got my hands on an instrument. I’ll never forget how much excitement that little boy felt for his future in those moments.

What makes Kaala Patthar stand out for you as a single?

The story behind the song is what stands out for me. Kaala Patthar was one of the first songs I’d ever made as a collaborative. The song would also go on to be one of the most defining moments in my album release. For me, it’s a perfect blend of culture and contemporary R&B.

What is the story behind Kaala Patthar?

I wanted to make a song that reflected my experiences in discovering and understanding my cultural identity. My family is from India, however, most of what I learnt throughout my life had been deeply by affected by colonial influence. My dear friend Mukukā (the feature vocalist in the song) had a lot to equally relate to on the subject, a voice you might recognise from her incredible ‘Autumn’ EP. We worked on her verse, both at a distance and over many face-time conversations about music and culture.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

Hands down, the best part in the song is when Mukukā drops her verse. The melody builds to a massive crescendo and I had a lot of fun with the harmonies and playing the piano in her part. The lyrics are also very direct and impactful. “Here I walk, here I stand, to make amends for things I don’t understand.” It’s a beautiful tie-in to the song’s message.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where?

This whole song came out of my room. I started with a lazy beat and found myself falling in love with it after adding the bass line. I pride myself in being an independent artist. There’s a different sense of achievement that comes from having started the project from scratch. Mukukā also recorded her vocals from home. Finally, when the whole song was finished I took a good 2 weeks to work on post-production, including the mixing. Sending it off for mastering was a big moment of relief for me.

What would you like listeners to take away from the song?

Kaala Patthar is a story of cultural diaspora, juxtaposed with the life of a little boy who sells coal on the black market to make ends meet. The takeaway is for listeners to ask themselves: What is my history? And what price do I pay to learn it?

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

Most of my favourite singles are more than just good stand-alone songs. A good single for me demonstrates everything an artist is capable of doing in one bold statement. My own expectations aren’t easy to live up to, but it makes for a fun challenge nonetheless.

Is there anyone else in your team?

For now, I’m doing everything. I run my own label (Pilgrim Music Studios), produce and perform my own music, and manage my own publicity. It’s not always easy. It’s taken me over 5 years to save for the right music gear and master my craft, but I’m learning so much doing it this way.

Of course I’m always reaching out to get help where I can. I have to thank my friends and family for encouraging me on this journey and supporting my cause. I have to thank Hugh Ozumba (Mazbou Q) for mastering Kaala Patthar and all the songs on my album. Vik Kainth designed the album artwork. Very importantly, I have to thank Mukukā for bringing her amazing voice to the song. I couldn’t have done it without these incredible people, truly.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

Does the journey ever stop!? Never! I’m already working on my next project and it only gets better from here. I’m solidifying myself both as an artist and producer, and making an effort to hit the digital scene well enough for people to have easy access to my work. If it’s one listener at a time I don’t mind. It’s more about the impact for me, the numbers don’t mean anything if my work isn’t resonating. I also want to continue working with others in the creative industry. Collaboration is more than working with a name. It’s about making friends, creating a strong community and supporting others out there in the same boat!

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

MukukāDear Ebony

I’ll leave my recommendation at one for now. I hope that’s ok. I’ll always love and appreciate the work of our local artists here in Aotearoa and all of them deserve to be listened to for the unique stories they tell. Mukukā’s music, however, was a huge inspiration for Kaala Patthar and her song would tie perfectly with the theme of mine.

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?

I haven’t applied for funding with NZOA just yet. I’m hoping to establish myself a bit better before I think about that. NewTracks is a very good cause for all of us artists though, new and existing. I’m grateful to have been selected first try. I’d encourage everyone to send their music through. I feel that having a good message behind the song, a solid artist cause/identity, and of course good quality music production should help anyone with the selection process.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

There’s a lot but I’ll narrow it down to three!

  • Odd Compass on Youtube. A channel that keeps me well informed on the history of South Asia, and my motherland.
  • RoadManTingz is another Youtube channel I follow, where my dear friend Abdul drives around Aotearoa getting to know what people do outside their 9-5. I love his cause.
  • I also spend a lot of time watching videos on anthropology. If I wasn’t a musician I’d probably be a scientist. Who knows, it might be my next day job.

Any last words?

Never stop learning. Three words I’ll take to my grave and hold myself accountable to forever. Grateful for the team at NZ Musician for creating an amazing platform for artists like myself to tell their stories. Big love to all of you checking my work out, listening, sharing and supporting!